Vaccine Sharply Cuts Risk of Shingles in Seniors, Study Finds
A Kaiser Permanente study of Zostavax shows the vaccine against herpes zoster can reduce the incidence of painful shingles outbreaks by 55 percent, even in the oldest populations. The varicella zoster virus causes chickenpox and shingles, and can remain dormant in a person's body for decades before erupting. The most severe complication is post-herpetic neuralgia, in which the virus causes inflammation inside nerves -- a persistent, painful condition that is "extremely challenging to control," said infectious-disease expert Dr. Bruce Hirsh of New York's North Shore University Hospital, who was not involved in the study. Zostavax, made by Merck & Co., was introduced in 2006; it currently reaches only about 11 percent of the US elderly population. CDC recommends the vaccine for all people over age 60 unless they are immune-suppressed, are HIV-positive, have leukemia or lymphoma or are allergic to any of the vaccine's components.